Interview with Fabian Hamilton MP at City of Sanctuary Leeds Launch
STAR: What made you return from London to this particular event and why is it important for you?
FH: Firstly because Tiffy Allen who is a fantastic woman and does so much, came to see me a number of times about City of Sanctuary; secondly because this is a cause I’ve been working for all my political life, especially the last 13 years since I’ve been MP. I do six advice sessions every month, each with eight appointments and usually up to half of those will be refugees and asylum seekers, with the most harrowing stories you’ve ever heard, so over the years I’ve built up this volume of examples of how bureaucracy treats people like dirt and how it needs to change, so it’s been a cause celebre for me for 13 years.
STAR: What is your City of Sanctuary promise?
FH: My promise will be to continue giving the best political support I can to the most vulnerable people in the world, who’ve come to seek sanctuary here; to make sure that bureaucracy doesn’t cause them to despair, and to actually allow them to become refugees and live amongst our society. They don’t have the right to vote so there’s nothing in it for me, it’s purely a commitment to the principal that people who come here to seek asylum, to seek sanctuary, should be given a fair case, and nine times out of ten their case does justify an approval.
STAR: Since the Conservatives have come into parliament, have you noticed a change in the way people are talking about refugee and asylum seeker issues?
FH: They perpetuate the view that we spend far too much money on asylum seekers and refugees, who are undeserving, who come here to exploit our system, and that’s the Daily Mail view of asylum and sanctuary. They want a slice of our country’s wealth, we give all our tax money to them and our own people suffer as a result. That’s the mythology. And it is a myth. The cost of asylum seekers is a fraction.
One chap said to me recently on the doorstep, ‘if it weren’t for all these asylum seekers I’d get a decent pension.’ I said ‘I’m sorry sir, that is a lie, if we closed our borders to all asylum seekers, you might see 5p a week extra.’ That’s what we’re talking about here. We have to explode that mythology, and the Tories really want to built that up, because in the end, they are the xenophobes and I think it’s tragic. Though I will say one thing in their favour. They have selected candidates, who are now members of parliament, deliberately from different ethnic minorities groups. So when I look at the Tory benches now, there are many more people of African origin, Caribbean origin, Pakistani origin and so on, than there used to be. That diversity has given them an edge, but it doesn’t make them any more liberal, I’m afraid to say.
STAR: If you’ve heard of the group United for Refugees, they sometimes have MPs speaking at their conferences and it’s always good to hear a voice of reason.
FH: Well if I can help in any way, do invite me. I obviously have a bit of a vested interest because my Dad came over as a 12 year old to escape Nazi Europe, from Vienna. There is a wonderful couple that I’ve know all my life, who are now in their late nineties, and they came from Berlin in 1938. They were already married, and that’s 72 years ago! A lot of people I know came as teenagers and children in the late thirties; they are old men and women now. There is a close friend of my mum’s, who came to Leeds aged 14 in 1938 from Berlin.
STAR: And at the time the Daily Mail already had a lot to say about this
FH: Exactly, and this woman, who retains a German accent, once said to me ‘Darling, this is terrible, these asylum seekers are coming here, getting everything free’ and I said Laura, you were an asylum seeker! ‘No it was different in those days, nobody gave us anything.’ So that’s alright then? You know, you had a really hard time! ‘I know, we struggled we struggled.’ So why should everyone else struggle? She couldn’t see the irony of what she was saying, it was hilarious.
STAR: Ok well thanks very much for answering our questions, and thanks for showing your support this evening.
Interview conduct by students on behalf of STAR Leeds (Student Action for Refugees)